J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Friday, May 02, 2014

Belle’s Boston Premiere, 4 May

A new British movie set in the eighteenth century will be previewed on Sunday, 4 May, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Belle was inspired by the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804), daughter of an enslaved African woman and Capt. John Lindsay of the Royal Navy. She was raised in England by a great-uncle, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, who issued the ruling in the Somerset case that made slavery unenforceable in England.

The painting above shows Belle and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, also raised by the Lord Chief Justice and his wife. Though at one time interpreted as a young woman and her servant, the picture is now recognized as showing two free cousins, though one has higher social status than the other.

The movie explores Dido Belle’s life in England, living in a household at the top of society and yet in a society with wealth based in significant part on racial slavery. It posits (as people did then) that Belle influenced her great-uncle’s thinking about slavery and race.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Dido Belle. Lord Mansfield is played by Tom Wilkinson, which is a very good sign, and his wife by Emily Watson. The Museum of Fine Arts screening, which is free but requires passes, will be followed by a panel discussion and question period.


Anonymous said...

I saw an article about this film at The Guardian. It does sound really interesting. Do you have any thoughts on Lord Mansfield? A historian quoted in the article seemed to think he really wasn't very antislavery at all...

Also, I know this is a bit OT, but if you have any advice I'd appreciate it. I also blog and I have been trying to insert a graphic this week into a blog post. I have not yet been successful. I know you have an image with every post and am wondering if you've had any trouble or if you could offer any advice as to how I can finally get the image up. Thanks! (Mollie)

J. L. Bell said...

Mansfield seems to have been a bit surprised by how his decision was interpreted within a few years as a major strike against slavery. He apparently thought of it as a very limited decision addressing only a specific situation. (I’ll quote Thomas Hutchinson about that soon.)

As for inserting images, the Blogger template works as advertised most of the time, in my experience. One needs to upload an image from one’s computer or to find a URL for an image alone to make that work. Some sites take steps to stymie such feeds while others make it easy. To tweak the image size and other details, I shift into HTML mode while editing a posting. And sometimes I give up on my first plan and look for another image that’s more cooperative.

cinnamonblue said...


I will be looking for your quoting of Hutchinson. Interesting stuff!

Thanks for your input re: blogger. I believe my file is uploaded, but trying to get it into a post doesn't seem to be working. Someone at the blogger forums suggested I create a new blog with another template and see if that helps. I'll also duly remember your advice about switching to HTML mode to resize, etc. Many thanks - Mollie (signing in with Google as I'll be going to blogger next anyway)

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, I have a couple of private blogs I've used just to play with design changes or other behind-the-scenes ideas.